Streatham, Immanuel – the saddest epitaph, and most commemorated man

Five men are listed on the roll as having been ringers at Streatham, Immanuel. The most complete information so far researched relates to the man who did not return, Ernest Attwater. He was the youngest of six brothers, all ringers, originally from the town of Cuckfield in Sussex. Two of his brother, Isaac James and Frank Norman, also served in the war and are listed on the roll as ringers at Streatham’s original parish church, St Leonard’s – it is not clear why they were divided in this way as records show they all divided their ringing between the two churches. A fourth brother, Louis, had also moved to London and rang at both churches too – he later became tower captain at St Leonard’s.

Louis and Isaac James had moved to London in the 1890s, Frank Norman and Ernest around 1912. Ernest was a carpenter, but also a keen cricketer. After moving to London he joined the ground staff at Surrey County Cricket Club, playing first as an amateur and then for the young professionals’ side. Just before war broke out he played in a ringers’ cricket match at Mitcham, he was on the team of the Ancient Society of College Youths, their opponents (the winners) the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths. A photo of the two teams was published in The Ringing World, Ernest appears the most relaxed in his whites, he took two wicket for 19 runs.

Ernest joined up on 9 September 1914, he opted to enlist in a New Army Battalion, 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He stated that he had previously served in a Territorial Force battalion of the regiment until leaving the county. He gave his occupation as foreman carpenter and pro cricketer. With his previous military experience, and work experience supervising others, it is no surprise that he received rapid promotion to serjeant. It probably also helped that the battalion CO was also a sportsman, albeit of the big game hunting type, in India.

In February 1916 he became a qualified machine gunner, and serjeant of the machine gun section. In March 1916 he spent just over a fortnight in hospital, although the reason is not given. Then, exactly two years after joining up, he was posted to an officer cadet course. On 25 January 1917 he was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps. His marriage to Alice Ethel Hulls was registered in the first quarter of 1917. He was posted to France with the newly formed 245 Machine Gun Company in July 1917. He was granted two weeks’ home leave in November 1917 – by this time Alice was several months pregnant. Their son, Mervyn Richard Attwater was born early in 1918. Sadly, in March 1918 the German’s launched their great Spring Offensive, and soon the British Army was falling back in some disarray. 245 Machine Gun Company was part of 50th Division. On 23 March 1918 the company was defending the crossings over the Somme at Brie, at around 7pmthe Officer Commanding was informed that Attwater had been killed during heavy shelling. He was subsequently buried in the town cemetery of Foucaucourt-en-Santerre by the Germans who held the town from 26 March. It is not clear how his body came to be laid there, a few kilometres to the west of where he was killed. His company was based here for a short time just before the town fell to the Germans, but whether they had taken his body that far, and had to leave it, or whether it was recovered by the Germans from where he had fallen is unclear.

After the war, his widow took up the option to add a personal inscription to the standard Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. It reads, “Until we meet, your little son Mervyn”. That meeting would not take place until 1996 when Wing Commander Mervyn Richard Attwater DSO DFC died in Arundel – he had a distinguished record as an RAF Bomber Command pilot during and after the Second World War. Like so many of the young widows made by the war, Alice soon remarried, and had six more children with her new husband.

In addition to the Surrey Association roll of honour, Ernest is commemorated on the Surrey CCC memorial at the Oval, three memorials in his home town of Cuckfield and the main memorial in his wife’s home town of Arundel – her father was a local butcher and town councillor, some old photos of the memorial suggest it was located outside his shop.

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6 thoughts on “Streatham, Immanuel – the saddest epitaph, and most commemorated man

  1. Phillipa Malins

    I was very interested to read the research you had done on Ernest Attwater. I work as a curator at Cuckfield Museum and will add this to our archive on the Attwater family. I’ll also forward it to our bellringers – very many thanks for getting in touch.

    Reply
  2. davidunderdown95 Post author

    Phillipa,

    Glad you found it interesting, I’ve various clippings from the ringing newspapers of the time relating to the Attwater brothers, and wrote an article about the ringers’ cricket match mentioned above to mark its centenary last year which was published in The Ringing World. Do contact me via the link above if you’d like copies of any of this material.

    Reply
  3. Simon Attwater

    I am the Grandson of Ernest Attwater and Son to Mervyn Attwater. I have two brothers and a sister and have recently retired from the Army after 45 years service. The information on our grandfather and his brothers is very scant as my father never talked about his father or that side of the family. He was effectively orphaned when his mother re-married and he was brought up by his grandparents. We would be grateful for any further information on our Grandfather and his Brothers or that side of the family.

    Regards

    Simon Attwater

    Reply
  4. davidunderdown95 Post author

    Simon,

    Great to hear from you. I’ve gathered quite a bit on the Attwaters, primarily public records such as censuses and so on, but also cuttings from the bell ringing newspapers. I was also briefly in touch with a Joan Attwater who’s the the person listed on http://sfhg.org.uk/ext/EF2.HTM as the person with an interest in the Attwater name.

    I also visited Ernest’s grave on a trip to the Somme last July (primarily to visit my own great-great-uncle’s grave), there’s a photo on my post about the trip https://halfmuffled.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/centenary-trip-continued/ .

    If you drop me a line via the contact page, I’ll gladly send what I have.

    David

    Reply
    1. Simon Attwater

      David,

      Thank you very much for replying so quickly. I will leave a message and contact details through the contact page.

      regards

      Simon

      Reply

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